Volume 8, No. 6 (June 2013)
2. INCISIVE PERSPECTIVES ON WORSHIP IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK
a. God’s Priority: Heart Worship
And Jesus said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me;
in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (7:6-7)
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13 to highlight this principle, which was as true in the Old Testament as in the New: outward worship acts without an underlying inner reality of devotion are worthless, even detestable, to God. See Worship Notes 1.11 for more on this theme of “Spiritual Sacrifices” (includes a listing of many texts from both Testaments that demonstrate this principle).
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is MUCH MORE than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (12:28-34)
As C. S. Lewis pointed out, it’s not as if God “really needed the blood of bulls and goats. . . . For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention” (“On Church Music” in God in the Dock, 99).
And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (12:41-44)
It was her heart of gratitude and generosity that made her gift more than others’ large sums. God didn’t need the gift; He was looking for a heart of worship.
b. Insincere Worship
[Sunday] And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (11:9-10)
[Friday] And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” (15:12-14)
The masses so quickly went from acclaiming Jesus as King to calling for His death.
c. Genuine Worship
And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way He breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39)
The profession of an obviously changed heart.
d. Lavish Worship
And while He was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over His head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have Me. She has done what she could [literally, “what she had, she did”]; she has anointed My body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (14:3-9)
What others saw as waste, Jesus saw as a “beautiful thing” (6), and that during a week of mounting opposition and plots [1-2, 10-11] and impending death; what refreshment her selfless act of adoration must have brought to His soul!).
“What she had, she did” (8): she gave the best she had as a selfless offering of devotion to her Savior. Jesus in effect said, “I’m worth it!” (7). And this woman instinctively knew that no sacrifice was too great for Him. She was so much more in tune with spiritual priorities than the disciples! That is why her story is still told “in memory of her” (9)!
Perhaps one reason Jesus was touched by the woman’s giving was because it foreshadowed what He Himself was about to do for the world: to give His best, to give it all, to allow Himself to be poured out for mankind. For a fuller treatment of this beautiful account, please see “The Waste of Worship” in Worship Notes 3.5.